MSU named regional host of national sustainable agriculture program Western SAR | TSLN.com

MSU named regional host of national sustainable agriculture program Western SAR

A field of barley is seen with a backdrop of the Bridger Mountains, in Bozeman, Mont., Friday, July 15, 2016. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Montana State University has been selected as the next Western region host institution of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organization, the country's foremost, producer-led research and education grant program for sustainable agriculture.

Western SARE is one of four regions organized under the national SARE, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its mission is to advance American agricultural sustainability through innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education. The Western SARE region encompasses 13 western states, as well as American Samoa, the Northern Marianas Islands, Micronesia and Guam.

Beginning in the fall of 2018 and with an annual grant and operational budget of $5.5 million — totaling $27.5 million over five years — MSU will administer four of five grant programs through Western SARE: research and education grants, farmer-rancher grants, professional and producer grants, and graduate student grants. The University of Wyoming will administer Western SARE's professional development grant program.

Fabian Menalled, professor of weed ecology and integrated pest management in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in MSU's College of Agriculture, has been named the Western SARE regional coordinator. Menalled is also Montana's state SARE coordinator, a position that calls for him to help promote sustainable agriculture locally through noncompetitive grants operated through SARE.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for MSU and for the state of Montana, and we're privileged to be at the center of discussions defining what the future of sustainable agriculture looks like," Menalled said. "As a scientist and a state coordinator, I have been supported by SARE for many years. I'm grateful now to be able to create a larger impact for agriculture in the West as regional Western SARE coordinator."

As the regional coordinator, Menalled will support Western SARE's administrative council, a governing board composed of farmers and ranchers along with representatives from universities, government, agribusiness and nonprofits.

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Charles Boyer, MSU vice president of agriculture and dean and director of the College of Agriculture, said hosting Western SARE is an immense opportunity for the university and for the state of Montana.

"Over the years, alongside statewide producers, agencies and grower groups, MSU has worked incredibly hard to be an innovative leader in all facets of agriculture research, teaching and outreach," Boyer said. "Being named the host institution of Western SARE is evidence of our success. We are inspired by the opportunity to continue this strong program and look forward to working with Western SARE and our regional institutions and colleagues in supporting those pioneering 21st century sustainable agriculture."

Menalled and Western SARE staff in Wyoming and California will support the council in setting regional priorities and programs, developing calls for proposals and ensuring projects have the balance and diversity to represent the region's wide-ranging geography. They will also coordinate sharing research results with agricultural stakeholders.

"The Western region of the United States is incredibly diverse, in agricultural economies, demographics and geography," Menalled said. "As we look to the future, our common challenges are certainly water, a warming climate, urban and rural interfaces, and generational and demographic shifts in agriculture. These are pressing issues and they present opportunities for producer-led, collaborative research across the West."

Menalled added that a greater focus on including minority populations and women in the Western region, in addition to supporting and training the next generation of farmers and food producers, are priorities for both the Western region and the U.S.

The University of Utah has hosted the Western SARE program since 1991. The decision to appoint MSU as the next host institution was based on a competitive process in which universities presented proposals to host for a five-year period.

"It's a challenge to start a new program at MSU, given Western SARE's long history," Menalled said. "However, we're committed to continuing the trusted SARE brand and improving the mission of ground-up, producer-led sustainable agriculture research for the Western region. The goal is to help the administrative council be successful in supporting grassroots research that will meet the agricultural challenges of today and tomorrow."

Larry Cundall, WSARE administrative chair, said MSU was selected as a host institution because of the state and university's focus on cutting-edge sustainability research and practices.

"I believe the future is bright for the Western SARE program, and we're pleased to be working with MSU and Dr. Menalled to build upon SARE's 30-year legacy," Cundall said. "We're confident the new team at MSU will demonstrate enthusiasm and innovation as we work to maintain healthy communities and solve unique problems in sustainable agriculture."

Functioning in 50 states and supported through competitive grants that are conducted cooperatively by farmers, ranchers, researchers and agriculture professionals, SARE's mission is to advance sustainable agriculture that is profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities. Since 1988, SARE has funded more than 5,000 projects throughout its regions. SARE defines sustainable agriculture as agriculture that is economically viable, socially supportive and ecologically sound. It privileges on-farm research innovation led by producers and multidisciplinary teams of experts and researchers.

-Montana State University